A meal at a perfectly pitched, food-focused pub has a strong case for being the best example of British dining – as relaxed as it gets, a menu packed with comfort food and plenty of booze on demand.
And while we cherish both, it’s not all pies and pints either – the capital’s best foodie pubs also offer Louisiana-style soul food, foie gras toasties and vegan fried “chicken” alongside a rib-sticking roster of British classics.
From belly-filling bangers and mash to Michelin-starred dinners, these are our favourite spots in the capital to find pub food to be proud of, listed.
The Harwood Arms
Given pubs live and die by their address, The Harwood Arms should not still be going. It sits on a quiet Fulham corner, away from any passing trade, not well placed for popping in for a swift one. That it’s been heaving for more than a decade is demonstration of just how good it is. Its food – Michelin-starred since 2010 – inspires loyalty and fondness, but despite the accolades, they haven’t taken things intimidatingly upmarket. Owners Mike Robinson and Brett Graham are both keen on good game, but across the menu Sally Abé’s cooking is pleasingly down-to-earth, though beautifully done. The Sunday Roasts are cracking and they serve a decent pint. It’s definitely not a boozer – it’s a place of Barbour jackets and Chelsea boots – but that works for its particular brand of country-pub cosy.
The French House
Making it to the upstairs restaurants is hard enough; the downstairs, full of old actors and those who pretend to be, is a seductive place, where everyone drinks endless glasses of wine and tell tales that either get lost in the clouded fog of drunkenness or grow to improbable proportions. The dining room is worth the climb, though; Neil Borthwick is on crackling form, serving a regularly changing menu of simply done, unaffected plates of good, maybe-a-little-bit-French food. It’s somewhere to come and settle in, to eat and drink up in, to crease up hysterically over silly jokes in, to be a little bit bad in. It is the epitome of Soho – which is to say, it offers comfort against the rest of the world.
Michelin named this Hackney spot its Pub of the Year in 2017 – unsurprising, since it was reborn the previous year with Michelin-starred blood in its veins. Chefs John Rotheram and Tom Harris reopened the Marksman, having both previously worked at British heavyweight St John. Its food-centric resurrection marries neighbourhood boozer vibes on its ground floor – and excellent bacon buns on the weekends – with a dining room above. Here, British classics are given a gutsy show, on a menu featuring rabbit and cep pie, Old Spot bacon chop with green bean chutney and ox tongue with runner beans and a lick of mustard.
The Princess of Shoreditch
Having quietly taken over the kitchen in between lockdowns, head chef Ruth Hansom (you might recognise the 25-year-old from the BBC’s Great British Menu) has used the agonisingly quiet downtime to perfect an ambitious tasting menu. Five or eight-courses are served upstairs, while more casual punters will find excellent pub classics and snacks (Beef Wellington, Bakewell tart…) on the ground floor. Sundays are all about the roasts. It is upstairs, though, where the magic happens. Summer highlights include a moreish reimagined British corn soup served with charcoal and hazelnut praline; zingy red mullet ceviche with Isle of Wight tomato and Yorkshire fettle; and Berkswell and truffle agnolotti on a bed of kohlrabi and bacon foam. Wines come from family-owned and small batch wineries. A proper pub with outstanding food created by an exciting young chef.
The Guinea Grill
The Guinea Grill specialises in the sort of wayward jollity that is rarely planned for but almost always welcome; the breakfasts which start with good intentions and end with Champagne, the lunch hours which grow into afternoons, the dinners that dissolve into fits of red-wine soaked laughter. Given many in the loud, lively dining room tend to walk out on the slant, perhaps it would seem needless for the food to be any good – but it is; very, very good. Their steaks are always spot on, they’ve beautiful lamb chops, and always buy in the best oysters. The roast is renowned. It’s somewhat upmarket – they do an approximation of silver service – and very expensive, but nowhere else offers such a welcome.
The Drapers Arms
A grand sky-blue facade, a statement painted bar and a chandelier (a small one, admittedly) in the dining room – this pub has been well looked after. Fortunately, as much care is taken in the kitchen of the Drapers Arms, where comfort food gets a French-leaning European twist: lamb rump comes with cavolo nero and anchovies, while confit duck leg is served with Montbeliard and Toulouse sausages alongside white bean cassoulet. Until recently, the Drapers was home to a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, which it sadly lost it in the 2019 guide.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the pub was still co-owned by Ben Maschler. We apologise for the mistake.
The Jugged Hare
When it comes to British meats, the Jugged Hare is ahead of the game. This Barbican pub can pull a pint, but it’ll also pluck you a pheasant too, possessing an ardent passion for game meat. British game season – late summer through to early spring – is the prime time to make a pitstop: at this time of year, the menu features roasted whole red grouse with liver pâté en croute, buttermilk fried partridge, braised venison leg with venison salami, and its namesake dish of 24-hour marinated, juniper-infused hare meat made to an 18th century recipe.
The Spread Eagle
Plant-based pub fans rejoice – when Homerton’s Spread Eagle reopened in 2018, it did so as London’s first totally vegan pub. All its beer is vegan (no, beer is not always vegan) and so are the cocktails, where egg whites are replaced with aquafaba – chickpea water, to you and I. In the kitchen, Club Mexicana cooks up a dairy-free storm: Meriel Armitage’s highly praised plant-based concept serves tacos filled with jackfruit carnitas and some pretty convincing baja “to-fish”, as well as a superlatively crunchy Mexican fried seitan “chick’n” burger, spiced up with mustard mayo and jalapenos.
Bravo to sommelier Xavier Rousset and chef Mark Jarvis. Both are acclaimed in their worlds and, taking over this Marylebone pub, there must have been a temptation to fuss, show off, posh it up. Fortunately, they haven’t – at least, not too much. The ground floor still feels very much like a proper pub; unassuming, decidedly unflashy. Downstairs is a 40-cover restaurant, smarter but still cosy, where Jarvis oversees a menu of upmarket pub favourites, oysters, steak, scallops, lamb fillet and the like. The wine list is remarkable, but with enough that’s affordable. Overall, it’s a cracker.
Lore of the Land
We think we can safely assume that Guy Ritchie and David Beckham have eaten at some pretty good restaurants over the years. It stands them in good stead for Lore of the Land, the famous duo’s Fitzrovia boozer which opened its doors earlier this year. Ritchie has been in the pub game for some years now, but expect something a little different: while you’ll find scotch eggs and burgers in the bar, the dining room is home to the less typical likes of kohlrabi tagliatelle with horseradish, miso butter poached cod and pulled lamb on toast with fresh mint sauce.
The Anchor and Hope
Forgive us while we get lost in The Anchor and Hope’s menu, where a three cheese and hazelnut souffle with pumpkin and extra parmesan hangs out with deep-fried pigs head and sauce gribiche. Sundays are when things get really indulgent: much of weekday menu is on offer, alongside bonus roasts and the likes of a suet-crusted sharing pie filled with pheasant, Calvados and chestnuts. For simpler pleasures, the pub also offers a set “Worker’s Lunch” menu which offers one course for £11 and three for just £18.
The Sun and 13 Cantons
Restaurant residencies have kick-started many wonderful things on the London food scene – and quite a few of these success stories have begun at The Sun and 13 Cantons. This Soho pub has been hosting regular pop-up restaurants and supper clubs for the last four years, acting as a platform for promising new chefs and projects. Arguably its biggest hit was hosting Asma Khan’s first three-month pop up, leading to the opening of her critically acclaimed Kingly Court restaurant Darjeeling Express. The pub’s impressive back catalogue also includes Matt Young (then Social Meat Club, now Rok), Claw, Sambal Shiok and Fanny’s Kebabs.
What do you get when a chef famed for his Italian food opens a pub in Islington serving Cajun cuisine? The answer is Plaquemine Lock, and it’s the foodie mash up you never knew you needed. Jacob Kenedy’s (of Bocca di Lupo fame) Louisiana-inspired cooking is a treat for the soul at this quirky, colourful corner pub, where the menu boasts fried oysters, ham, duck and andouille sausage gumbo, with sides of fried green tomatoes, collard greens and candied yams. Don’t forget to save room for pecan pie and cane sugar ice cream.
Smokehouse is a meaty affair, but who doesn’t want to eat somewhere that serves Korean pulled pork as a side? Another Islington favourite, this pub is so particular about its meat that it orders in whole animal carcasses and butchers them in-house. They’re then usually slow-cooked, smoked or grilled over coals, and served up with produce from small, family-owned farms. Lamb tacos are topped with chipotle aioli and pickled shallots, while Sundays mean Gloucester Old Spot pork rib eye with smoked pig shoulder and beef fat greens.
The Hero of Maida Vale
This west London local hero has been hosting with the most for more than 140 years, but its looking better than ever since its 2016 revamp. The bar area serves booze-soaking snacks such as sausage rolls and Welsh rarebit as well as roasts on a Sunday, while the even more sophisticated surrounds of its dining room host a daily changing, ingredient-dependent menu of thoughtfully constructed classics: a Barnsley chop comes with braised flageolet beans and salsa verde, while a smoked salmon rillette comes with pickled cucumber.
The Canton Arms
Pub food doesn’t have to be fancy to hit the spot – sometimes a damn good toastie will do the trick. The ones at the Canton Arms are some of London’s most beguiling bar snacks, with fillings including Westcombe cheddar with a variety of extras, haggis, and luxurious lashings of foie gras. Elsewhere, steak pie and mash gets an outing for two at dinner, but the menu is peppered with European flare and North African spice, as ox and beef cheeks are served Provencal style and shaved sprouts come with yoghurt and dukkah.
The Cow, Notting Hill
For full on pub food done right, Notting Hill’s the Cow is a reliable and rambunctious pick. “Eat hearty and give the house a good name” is their motto, which is swiftly achieved from chowing down on chicken kiev, beef and Guinness pie, pate with piccalilli, and sausages and mash. More contemporary palates can slurp on platters of oysters, buratina cheese with endive and celeriac or pumpkin gnocchi with sage butter. There’s also a dish of the day offer to keep in your diary – dishes ranging from confit pork belly to fishcakes with tartare sauce are available for just £12.
The Culpeper is the archetypal example of a pub revamp done right. A declining Spitalfields boozer taken over in 2015 has since blossomed into a wildly popular after-work haunt. Shabby chic decor, a rooftop bar and good stock of local spirits have worked their magic, but the food has a hand too. The upstairs restaurant serves ingredient-conscious, contemporary plates such as heritage roasted carrots with goat’s curd and polenta and a dish of Yorkshire pork loin with potato rosti, spiced prunes and kalibos cabbage.
The Thomas Cubitt
At the Thomas Cubitt in Victoria, they like to keep things light. Don’t get us wrong, the pub menu is chock full of hearty classics – from haddock and chips to sausage and mash – but floor to ceiling French windows that open out onto the street in summer debunk the myth that pubs need to be cosy to be comfortable. Head back into the dining room for a more refined setting in which to enjoy rare breed White Park beef and Dorset game, or go the whole hog and book one of their two decidedly homely private rooms.
The Coach, Clerkenwell
Clerkenwell is excellent pub crawling territory – but be sure to plan your dinner pitstop for The Coach, a revamped pub that has been keeping the area watered since 1790. French food is on the table these days thanks to The Coach’s chef-restaurateur, Francophile Brit Henry Harris. Start by getting stuck into a baked camembert with pickles, before going for grilled rabbit with green beans, Alsace bacon and mustard sauce. If you’re dining with a couple of like-minded friends, sharing portions of côte de bœuf, porterhouse or rump steak are tasks worth taking on.
The Red Lion and Sun
A pootle around the leafy retreat of Highgate village could end worse than piling into the Red Lion and Sun. The foliage-fringed nook has been the site of a pub since the 16th century, and the current incarnation has garnered multiple accolades for its food. Beyond the pleasingly fairytale facade, guests are met with an eclectic selection of comfort food – think vegan dhal with heritage carrots alongside coq au vin pie – as well as a standout wine list An added bonus: fish and chips is available to take away every day until 10pm.